Lisbon: Public services across Portugal ground to a halt as unions staged a 24-hour strike against austerity measures agreed by the government in return for an international bailout.
Garbage went uncollected, ports and schools closed, public transport was disrupted by the country's second general strike in four months yesterday.
But while public services were affected, most banks, restaurants and supermarkets in the Portuguese capital remained open and the strike appeared to have fewer participants than other recent work stoppages.
Portugal's biggest union -- the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) -- called the strike in February to oppose changes to labour laws that make it easier to fire workers, reduce holidays and cut layoff compensation, moves the government contends will revive the economy.
It is also angry at government austerity measures such as the elimination of public employees' Christmas and vacation bonuses -- each roughly equivalent to a month's pay -- that aim to rein in the public deficit.
Unlike the two previous general strikes held in November 2011 and November 2010, yesterday's action did not have the backing of Portugal's second-biggest union, the historically more moderate General Workers Union (UGT), which reached an agreement with the government over the labour law reforms.
The CGTP did not give global participation figures for the strike but the union's secretary general Armenio Carlos blamed "financial difficulties", with many workers unable to afford taking a day off work, and "intimidation in workplaces" preventing many people from taking part.
The metros in Lisbon and Oporto, Portugal's second-largest city, were closed, forcing tens of thousands of commuters to find an alternative way to get to work or school.
The majority of ports, including the port of Lisbon and Viana do Castelo in the north, were closed while garbage collection was halted across the country, according to CGTP.
Hundreds of schools closed their doors throughout the country, according to the Fenprof teachers' union.
Government spokesman Luis Marques Guedes said the strike "won't help solve the country's problems."
"We have the feeling that the overwhelming majority of Portuguese feel the same way," he added.
Demonstrations and rallies were held in 38 cities and towns across the country, including Lisbon, Oporto and Coimbra.
Much of the strike passed peacefully, but a skirmish broke out between police and young activists who had organised their own march, an AFP photographer said.
At least one person was arrested in Oporto as demonstrators booed Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho during a visit to the northern city's university. (AFP)
First Published: Friday, March 23, 2012, 09:15